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US Envoy Sees Progress in Somalia; Challenges Remain

A Ugandan soldier serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) stands at the back of an armored fighting vehicle near the front line in the Yaaqshiid District of northern Mogadishu, Somalia. (file photo)

The U.S. special envoy for Somalia says the United States is pleased with recent progress in the country, citing security gains against al-Shabab and movement on a 'roadmap' to phase out the country's transitional government.

In a conversation with VOA, U.S. Ambassador James Swan said there has been “very significant” progress in Somalia over the past year.

He noted the recent successes the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union forces (AMISOM) have had against the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab.

“I think we've really seen a change in the narrative with al-Shabab increasingly on the defensive, TFG and AMISOM increasingly taking the initiative and moving forward,” said Swan.

Kenyan soldiers talk as they prepare to advance near Liboi in Somalia (File)
Kenyan soldiers talk as they prepare to advance near Liboi in Somalia (File)

A military operation initiated by Kenya in Somalia's south-central region has added to pressure on the militant group.

While the United States is not directly involved in the military operations, Ambassador Swan noted the U.S. does provide support to the AU and TFG forces through a security assistance program.

Meantime, Somalia is trying to implement a political roadmap, agreed to in August, for ending the transitional federal government and drafting a new constitution.

Somali leaders recently agreed to some principles of the transition at a conference in Garowe in the autonomous Puntland region. However, enormous challenges remain.

Ambassador Swan expressed concern about an ongoing dispute among Somali lawmakers over a motion to oust the parliamentary speaker.

“The dispute in parliament risks becoming at best a distraction and at worst a setback for roadmap implementation, so we are very eager to see this rapidly overcome so that all of the Somali institutions can keep their focus on implementing the roadmap and bringing the transition to an end in August of this year,” Swan added.

Somali members of parliament have brawled on at least four separate occasions following a move to oust speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan. Several MP's were hospitalized after the most recent fistfight.

Among their grievances, his opponents complain that Adan has refused to hold debates on the roadmap.

Another issue complicating Somalia's future is the role of regional authorities that have sprung up across the country in the absence of a strong central government.

Somalis say the United States caused some confusion by advocating a “dual-track” program that supports a strong central government in the first track and honors smaller regional authorities in the second.

The program sounded to some like it was promising to recognize any and all of these local administrations.

Swan said the policy is more discriminating than that.

“But it is clear that while we are happy to have conversations and discussions with any of these new administrations that are announced or proposed, that our direct assistance and our more active support will be contingent on demonstrations that these administrations are functional on the ground and have genuine representation of their populations,” Swan said.

Somalia has not had a stable central government in 20 years, since warlords overthrew President Mohamed Siad Barre.

Since it was established in 2006, the TFG has missed all of its previous deadlines for holding national elections and completing a constitution, and many analysts are doubtful this year will be any different.